This month saw yet another shameful trafficking crime hitting the headlines in Britain. On Saturday 16 August, 35 people from Afghanistan were discovered in a shipping container unloaded from a ferry at the port of Tilbury. Thirteen children aged as young as one were among the group. Unfortunately there was one fatality in the container, with the rest of the victims transported to hospital for medical checks.
This is just the latest in a continuing battle against not only one of biggest crimes against humanity, but also the third largest international crime industry, reportedly generating $32billion profit every year. Last week 20 Romanian nationals were also rescued from forced labour at a food production site in Northern Ireland, and earlier in August eight men aged between 21 and 46 from Eastern Europe, who were believed to be held as slaves at a farm in Hampshire, Britain, were rescued.
These are only the cases that are reported by the media and are even discovered by the authorities. There are unfortunately millions of people throughout the world that we do not know about and are yet to be rescued or escape from the situations that they encounter after being trafficked across borders. This could be for prostitution, forced labour or marriage.
Trafficking continues to be a global epidemic, with 600,000-800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80% are women and girls. Up to 50% are minors. (US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2013).
There is no sign of this trade slowing or ever being eradicated. The trade is being re-enforced by continuing conflict and unrest in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. There are thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and seeking safety outside of their home countries, and where there are displacements and terror, there is a ready source of trafficking victims.
Through the increase in media coverage people are learning more about what human trafficking is, the causes and unfortunately the human costs. We need to leverage this and use it as an opportunity to educate our border staff, our communities, and relief workers working in conflict zones. Through awareness we can make it tougher for trafficking to go unnoticed and we can make it easier for victims to ask for help.
I welcome the government's commitment to the European Convention on Human Trafficking and the Modern Slavery Bill, which I hope will receive royal assent early in 2015. I call upon the government to step up this commitment, by implementing a joined up approach to training, by enforcing the criminal law, by executing more stringent penalties, and by pursuing more effective control over ports and the Eurostar. This will ensure that the issue stays on the agenda of the G8 and G20 meetings, as this is a global issue and the UK should lead the campaign but also needs to encourage all countries to develop aggressive strategies to tackle this international crime.